Muscle memory vs brain memory

Riding a bike, swimming a stroke, even doing zumba – if you do any activity over a period of time, the chances are you are performing without conscious effort – your body knows exactly what it has to do and performs it unconsciously. But is this ‘memory’ in the muscles or in our brain?

Researchers can’t agree where in our bodies muscle memory resides. That’s because there are actually two distinct systems of memory at play: one about muscles, the other about coordinated movements.

Neuroscientist Alan Pearce believes unconscious movement comes from the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). When you learn a movement and / or action, you are retaining motor skills and your brain memorises the skills. He believes the term ‘motor memory’ is a better term.

On the other hand, exercise physiologist Craig Goodman believes muscle memory is the right term. He uses the example of bodybuilders and athletes to describe muscle memory. Dr Goodman gives the example of when bodybuilders and athletes stop training, they lose muscle mass however, when they start to train again, they “muscle memory” kicks again and they regain muscle even faster than the first time.

“Imagine if you’re in, say, the summer months, doing tasks that require a lot of strength and muscle size, then you went into a period of relative inactivity during the winter. It would make sense that, when you come back to the warmer months and you need to get going again, you regain your strength and muscle size relatively quickly. You don’t have to spend the rest of the summer trying to increase your strength” Dr Goodman says.

Besides, some research suggests if people undertake strength training, in their early life (teens and 20s) and then they become inactivity for a long period, they keep a physical advantage by ‘ muscle memory’, over those who never trained.

Experts are still debating different muscle memory theories, but regardless, giving your clients a general understanding of muscle memory may help them understand more about how their bodies work and respond to exercise.

Is muscle memory in your body or in your mind? The experts disagree,
Anna Kelsey-Sugg, ABC News, 29/3/19.